The Ultimate HR Guide to Stress Busting


HR Insights for ProfessionalsThe latest thought leadership for HR pros

Monday, November 28, 2016

Stress can be a very destructive force, resulting in a wide variety of health issues from insomnia, to high blood pressure and heart problems.

Article 4 Minutes
The HR Guide to Stress Busting

According to there were 8.2 million cases of anxiety disorder diagnosed in 2013, and 9 per cent of the UK population met the criteria for a depression diagnosis, both of which are usually triggered by stress.

Mental health issues are becoming increasingly prevalent with one in four people a year suffering some form of disorder; it has therefore become an essential part of management strategy to monitor the wellbeing of staff for their mental and physical health. Read on to find out:

  • How to monitor staff wellbeing effectively
  • What action can be taken to relieve stress
  • The warning signs that stress is having a negative impact on your staff

Perform a negative-stress audit

A fantastic and effective way to monitor the overall stress levels and job satisfaction of your staff is by simply asking them to complete a questionnaire. This data can then be collated into statistical evidence to figure out which areas staff feel need to be improved.

The Health and Safety Executive have released a staff health and wellbeing toolkit for businesses to use. FirstAssist, a health insurance provider, reported that simply by dropping off questionnaires on the desks of its staff, it received a 90 per cent response rate which allowed them to improve their human resources and staff support services in several locations.

Another way to gauge staff wellbeing is to simply ask during one-to-one appraisals – offering an option to write any problems they may have anonymously may be more appropriate with this approach. Be wary of being too intrusive, but allowing your staff the opportunity to speak up about any stresses or personal issues they may be suffering can allow you to take appropriate action to maintain their wellbeing.

What are the signs of stress?

Stress manifests itself in a number of ways, much of which is mental. It can have psychosomatic (physical effects caused by mental stresses) such as palpitations, high blood pressure, headaches, digestive issues such as nausea, chest pains and fatigue. Stress causes mental issues such as anxiety disorder, depression, agitation, insomnia and even compulsive behavior such as over eating and substance misuse.

It isn’t always obvious to the individual when they are over-stressed and close to the edge, but it should be obvious to those around them and should be addressed seriously. The Health and Safety Executive says around 9.9 million working days are lost each year to stress, depression or anxiety so it is worth learning when to recognize that your staff are being pushed too hard.

How to treat stress

Stress is your body’s natural reaction to danger, the so called fight or flight response. While it can be useful in avoiding or escaping dangerous situations, it can wear us out very quickly when it is constantly switched on. Fortunately there are many ways to treat stress, from breathing exercises to physical exercise.  

Physical Exercise: Exercise is a fantastic way to release tension, and has the benefit of releasing serotonin and endorphins - the brain’s feel-good chemicals - into the body. Meditative exercise that uses all of the body’s muscles is best, like swimming, running and yoga. It could be effective to include benefits like gym memberships or group exercise like regular hikes for your staff to enjoy and shed some stress.

Breathing Exercises: Encouraging your staff to set aside half an hour a day to practice breathing exercises will help them stay on top of their stress levels and costs nothing as they can be done anywhere at any time. Some breathing exercises are as simple as focusing on controlled breathing, whereas others, like abdomen breathing (learning to breathe from the bottom of the diaphragm), can take a bit more practice but are worth the effort to learn. 

Progressive Muscle Relaxation: A two-step process that involves systematically tensing and relaxing different muscle groups throughout the body. With practice, it’s possible to become familiar with what tension and relaxation feel like in different parts of the body. This awareness allows the first signs of muscular stress to be recognized and counteracted. It can be combined with breathing exercises and your staff can practice progressive muscle relaxation at their desks or during breaks.

Mindful Meditation: Mindfulness is the ability to remain in the present, moment to moment, both internally and externally. Removing yourself from worries about the future or regrets about the past is a great mood stabilizer. Some of these meditations focus on a single repetitive action such as breathing, repeating a few words or a calm anchor. Providing your staff with a breakout space in which to get some peace and quiet to practice will do wonders for bringing down stress levels.

Stress can have a detrimental and even permanent effect on the wellbeing and health of your staff. Encouraging them to be active in combating their stress and doing your part to encourage and educate them on the warning signs and ways to counteract stress will keep them happy and healthy and ensure their wellbeing.

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